Banned Books Week: My Two Cents

Banning books. It’s one of the few things that makes me want to say the fully-spoken translation of the WTF?! acronym. Because why?

Because it makes no sense.

Where is the logic in making it harder for anyone–children, teens, adults–to learn, to know their own world or a part of the world that doesn’t specifically/immediately touch them? Hide a truth under a rock, bury it in a hill of dirt, tear or burn the pages, remove it from a library shelf, take it out of the classroom…what are you doing? You’re making it harder for us to understand each other, to communicate about each other.

You’re amping up the barriers that create Other.

Not to mention the silliness of the attempt which, especially today with the Internet and Social Networking, you’re pushing a lot of readers to go out and get that book they didn’t yet know about and which you just sent them a big, neon-flashing alert about. The book you just made them want to read–whether out of curiosity, irritation, or rebellion.

I’m just reading a book called Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma, by Gabriele Schwab. The book is research for my historical YA WIP, and it’s sort of halfway between a university-type analysis and a personal memoir. Schwab was born in Germany at the end of WWII, and she talks powerfully about being the generation to live with the guilt, albeit how buried and silent, of the previous generation.

At one point in the book, Schwab explains how, after the war, she was “mainly exposed to the massive infusion into the German cultural and educational sector of North American literature and Hollywood films, as well as a great deal of propaganda. The only open critics of such a refashioning of Germany were the teachers of German literature who sunned the Anglicization of the German language and forbade us to use ‘foreign’ words. They also lamented the fact that postwar children grew up without German literature because it had almost instantly been replaced in school curricula with those allegedly ‘uncultured’ books by such new American authors as Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Pearl S. Buck.”

Obviously, there’s a lot of complex and layered emotions in this memory, and–of course–in my reading of and reaction to it, that aren’t connected to the banning issue. But the sentence I want to highlight for this post today comes at the start of the next paragraph. Schwab writes:

“In defiance of our teachers we enthusiastically took to American literature…”

It doesn’t work, folks. Ultimately, most people will find the books they want to read. In some ways, if you try to stop that, you are making a joke of yourself.

The sad part of this, though, is that there are readers, predominantly children, who will have their reading lives–that magic thing–made much more difficult and painful by banning. Because while you can’t keep books away from “the people,” you can keep them away from a person.

This needs not to happen.

So a Thank You to everybody supporting Banned Books Week, however you’re doing it. Thanks to the American Library Association for making it an annual event. Thanks to every author who has suffered (and, no, I don’t see it as a game for the authors to whom it happens) through their book being banned or challenged and who has stood up to the attempt and–here’s the biggie–kept writing.

My son let me know that his favorite thrift shop is celebrating Banned Books Week with a special sale of banned & challenged books. Boom! Out came my wallet. I’ll be curious to see what he brings home.

As for me, I read as many books as I can fit into my days, banned and unbanned. And I’m taking the week as a reminder to myself that, no–I’m not writing to be banned–but this YA has some painful truths in it. And I am writing to depict those truths as realistically and powerfully as I can. If accomplishing that means angering any of those people who consider banning books a right, well, then I will count that as a part of success.

If you want to learn more about Banned Books Week, check out the excellent list of links that Debbi Michiko Florence has provided at her new blog, DEBtastic Reads. Thanks, Debbi, for doing the work!

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2 thoughts on “Banned Books Week: My Two Cents

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